Nebraska traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday in search of its first win on the season but came up short, losing 41-24.
This loss was encouraging for the team as they put up a tough fight against one of the best teams in the Big Ten, something they could not do against Michigan earlier this year.
Nebraska’s record moves to 0-5 on the year, their worst mark since 1945, and 0-3 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin improved its record to 4-1 and 2-0 in conference play.
The game did not get off to the start Nebraska wanted as Wisconsin’s opening drive went 15 plays and sucked almost eight minutes off the clock. The Husker defense stood strong when it mattered most and were able to hold the Badgers to a field goal.
Wisconsin then put together another scoring drive after two uninspiring drives for the Huskers. Their drive was set up by a poor punt from punter Caleb Lightbourn that only went 23 yards. Fortunately, Nebraska’s defense held firm again as they were able to hold them to a field goal and only moved the score to 6-0 Badgers.
Needing some response to the Badgers, the Huskers were able to put together a field goal drive helped in large part by a 25-yard reception from wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. on third down.
The Badgers then responded with two consecutive touchdown drives to end the half and give Wisconsin a 20-3 lead heading into the half.
Nebraska came out of halftime firing as quarterback Adrian Martinez was able to find wide receiver JD Spielman on the second play of the drive on a slant that turned into a 75-yard TD reception.
Spielman had an impressive day with 209 receiving yards on nine catches and a touchdown. The 209 receiving yards broke his own school record he set last year against Ohio State. Even after setting the school record, Spielman was more focused on the loss.
“[I] just kinda take it like any other game we lost,” Spielman said. “We’ve got to come back on Monday ready to work. Make sure we know the game plan and get ready for Northwestern.”
That play was instantly followed up by another Badger touchdown drive that extended the Wisconsin lead to 27-10 midway through the third quarter.
In need of a response, Nebraska promptly fumbled on their next possession and allowed another Wisconsin touchdown drive after.
Looking at a 34-10 scoreline, fans and players had seen this before. Last year’s team quit when they were down by a lot. Even this year’s team did the same after getting punched in the mouth against Michigan. Today, the team did not do that and fought back.
Nebraska answered the Wisconsin touchdown drive with one of their own that ended with a 12-yard reception by tight end Jack Stoll. Spielman had a huge 38-yard grab earlier that helped the drive along.
Both teams followed with punts on their next drives. Then, Wisconsin came with the dagger, an 88-yard run from Heisman candidate running back Jonathan Taylor. He ended the game with 221 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns.
The Huskers responded with a touchdown drive that included a big 30-yard and 18-yard receptions from Spielman. Martinez also had a 28-yard scamper and capped off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. The touchdown cut the lead to 41-24 with around nine minutes left in the game.
The score would not change from their as teams traded punts until the final whistle blew.
Head coach Scott Frost stayed optimistic after the game saying during the week, the team practiced well and they grew throughout the week.
“I saw a team practice the best it’s practiced all year, I saw a team start loving each other, holding each other accountable and they came out here and fought,” he said. “We weren’t good enough to win the game, but I really feel like that was a turning point for us.”
Martinez had a big day in the loss as he went 24-42 with 384 yards and two touchdowns. He was also the team-leading rusher with 57 yards on 13 carries and another touchdown.
“For the atmosphere we put him in, we feel like he played really well,” Spielman said. “I’m super proud of Adrian [Martinez]. Everyday he’s getting better and better and I feel that in a couple years, he’s going to be something crazy.”
The Huskers now travels to Northwestern next week in search of their first win, and to avoid their worst start in school history.